Matthew 8: 14-17
Parallels Mark 1: 29-31, Luke 4: 38-39
14 When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; 15 he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
Matthew places the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in the final position of this trio of healing stories. The final position of this story fits the pattern of the following groups of healing stories where the final story involves an expansion of the people’s awareness of Jesus’ authority and power. As I’ve alluded to in the previous two stories, the quotation of Isaiah 53: 4 interprets the meaning of the healing stories for Matthew’s readers. Jesus is cast in the role of the suffering servant and the healing and exorcisms will be interpreted through the lens of the first half of Isaiah 53:4, the broader passage will continue to resonate particularly as we approach the crucifixion.
In Mark this story comes before the healing of the person with a skin disease (leper) but theologically needs to because in Mark’s narration Jesus is no longer able to enter town after the healed individual spreads the word. Matthew is a careful narrator and without the ‘Messianic secret’ motif of Mark is able to structurally use the coming of people in the evening for healing as an expansion of the awareness of Jesus’ power and authority. Jesus has returned to Capernaum and now enters the house of one of the fishermen he called before the Sermon on the Mount. Upon seeing Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed he touches and heals her and she responds by rising up and serving him. Jesus will latter claim that he came, ‘to serve, and not to be served’ (Matthew 10:28) and Peter’s mother-in-law in her own way embodies what the stance that Jesus models for all his disciples. The Greek word diakonia which is translated serve is the word that the office of deacon comes from and this ecclesiastical office is a reminder of the call of all followers of Jesus to serve.
Jesus has healed three by both touch and word, and now many are brought to be healed or to have demons cast out. Words and cures are given for all who are brought to the house and the kingdom of heaven’s power emanates from this foothold in Capernaum. Jesus brings a healing and wholeness that neither Israel nor Rome could offer. Jesus has already crossed many of the boundaries that separated groups of people, clean and unclean, Gentile and Jew, male and female and I do believe the type of community envisioned in the Sermon on the Mount is a place where healing can happen. The healings point to the nature of the kingdom of heaven and prepare us again to examine the nature of discipleship in light of the kingdom’s advent.
I’ve always found it interesting that Matthew applies this Isaiah text to Jesus’ healing ministry rather than to the cross. Here Jesus “takes” our infirmities by healing them, not by suffering them himself. I find the unexpectedness of this scriptural application might attest to its primitive status in the Jesus-tradition.
The closest that Matthew comes to linking the servant texts in Isaiah to the crucifixion that I am aware of is in Matthew 12 when he quotes Isaiah 42 after the Pharisees begin to conspire to destroy Jesus. These Isaiah suffering servant texts will become strongly linked with trying to explain who Jesus is using the Hebrew scriptures, and it is interesting that I can’t recall any of the gospels alluding to these texts in their crucifixion narratives. It may be that Matthew and Mark especially see in the events of the crucifixion things that evoke lines from Psalm 22 and that becomes the dominant text, but you are correct that it is interesting that Matthew alludes to the servant songs of Isaiah here but not in the crucifixion.
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